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Pakistan, Israel Establish First High-Level Contact


The foreign ministers of Pakistan and Israel met publicly for the first time in Istanbul Thursday. Pakistani officials say the decision to engage the Jewish State diplomatically was taken to provide "an impetus to the Middle East peace process." Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, however, has reiterated that his country will not recognize Israel, until the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

The breakthrough meeting in Turkey between Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri and his Israeli counterpart, Silvan Shalom, follows Israel's recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and its closure of several Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Predominately Muslim Pakistan does not recognize Israel, and in the past has taken a harder line against the country than even some Arab states.

The Pakistan foreign ministry's top diplomat, Riaz Mohammad Khan, told reporters in Islamabad that the meeting between the two foreign ministers was encouraged by Israel's evacuation of Jewish settlers from the occupied territories.

"This contact, the first at this level, is essentially a gesture to Israel to underscore the importance that we attach to the end of Israeli occupation of Gaza and to the Middle East peace process," he said. "We expect Israel to continue the process in the West Bank so that all occupied Palestinian territories are vacated, leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state."

Mr. Khan says the meeting does not imply recognition of Israel by Pakistan, but he does suggest that positive acts towards the Palestinians will work in Israel's favor.

"We believe that this meeting will provide an impetus to the peace process by encouraging Israel to appreciate that reasonableness on its part in respecting the aspirations of the Palestinian people will draw positive responses from the Islamic world," he added.

Mr. Khan says Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in advance of the plan to hold talks with Israel. He says both leaders welcomed the decision as "a helpful initiative".

Hard-line Islamic parties in Pakistan, however, have condemned the talks in Turkey, and have vowed to stage a day of protest on Friday against the move.

The high-level contact between Pakistan and Israel precedes plans by President Musharraf to address an interfaith gathering organized by the Council for World Jewry when he visits New York later this month to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

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